Amanda Boetzkes


On her book Plastic Capitalism: Contemporary Art and the Drive to Waste

Cover Interview of November 13, 2019

A close-up

If you were to approach this book at a bookstore, you would immediately be struck by the cover image. It’s a photograph of a couple sealed in plastic together with dozens of running shoes, taken by the Japanese artist Haruhiko Kawaguchi (aka Photographer Hal). It is one of many in which the photographer hermetically seals couples in plastic with their favorite objects. He only has one minute to snap the picture before he has an assistant break open the plastic to let in the air. The whole process is tense, but people love having their portraits taken in this way. I take this practice to be exemplary of our relationship to plastic capitalism: we are steeped in it, but it produces a lot of anxiety, particularly about the issue of the disposability of waste. The cover speaks volumes about the kinds of issues I discuss in the book.

But I would also hope a reader would leaf through the book and see the other artworks that I discuss. Some of them are familiar, like the famous photograph by Chris Jordan of an exposed albatross corpse showing pieces of hard plastic inside. Others, perhaps are unexpected, like Melanie Bonajo’s Furniture Bondage (2007), an image of a woman standing naked, with mundane household objects strapped to her body. Our patterns of waste production and consumption are not predictable, and they register in unusual ways in contemporary art.

There are a lot of images of figures with trash: people walking, dancing, sorting, posing in landfills. There are maps, films, photographs, drawings, and more. Some of the images are beautiful. Some are hideous. Many are disturbing. All are fascinating. My hope is that they stand as a provocation to read further, to seek out the descriptions and from there, the arc of the book’s argument.

I close the book with a poem by Adrienne Rich from 1973 called “Diving into the Wreck”. I find this poem heart-wrenching, but at the same time it captures so much of the thinking and the analysis of contemporary art that I have worked with. If there is one thing to read in the store, after looking through the images, it would be that poem.